Acclaimed essayist Mark Edmundson uses his own rite of passage as a high school football player to showcase larger truths about the ways America's game shapes its men
Football teaches young men self-discipline and teamwork. Football celebrates inflicting violence. Football is a showcase for athletic beauty and physical excellence. Football damages young bodies and minds, sometimes permanently. Football instills confidence and direction. Football instills cockiness, an inflated sense of superiority. The athlete is a noble figure with a proud lineage. The jock is America at its worst.
When Mark Edmundson?s son began to play organized football, and proved to be very good at it, Edmundson had to come to terms with just what he thought about the game. Doing so took him back to his own childhood, when as a pudgy, shy, and bookish boy growing up in a blue-collar Boston suburb in the sixties, he went out for the high school football team and found his life changed. Why Football Matters is the story of what happened on that team, and what else it changed, not least his relationship with his own father, who for the first time began to hope that his son could learn how to be tough enough.
What does it mean to be tough? Again and again, Edmundson?s education in the game forced him to come at the question from different perspectives. Can toughness be learned? At first he didn?t feel tough at all, and he was a hapless football player, and thus a miserable teammate. But over time, he got over his fear and got tougher. He learned to be a better player and came to feel a part of the team, during games but also along for all sorts of escapades, some unsavory and even illegal. There is no ?I? in team, famously, but is that always a good thing? Is being tough and being sensitive a contradiction in terms?
Why Football Matters is moving, funny, vivid, and filled with the authentic anxiety and exhilaration of youth. Edmundson doesn?t regret playing football for a minute, and cherishes the experience. His triumph is to be able to see it in full, as something to celebrate, but also something to handle with care. For anyone who has ever played on a football team, is the parent of a player, or simply is reflective about its outsized influence on America, Why Football Matters is both a mirror and a lamp.